A classroom star is born

Ted is a modern missionary: his reason and rhyme is to get young people to write. Douglas Blane follows the bear

Scotland has produced its fair share of hardy souls who have scorned the security of hearth and home and gone forth among "new men, strange faces, other minds", explorers and missionaries such as Livingstone from Blantyre, Selkirk from Largo, Mackenzie from Stornoway and now Ted from Spittal in Rutherglen.

At the dawn of the 21st century, young Ted is not out to win fame and fortune or convert people to Christianity, but to help boys and girls who have just started at school to learn how to write.

Adventure Ted is a bear, the creation of Spittal Primary school assistant headteacher Carole Morrison. She invented the character while she was seconded as a literacy tutor in Glasgow, tested him in a dozen schools and has now been persuaded to share the bear more widely by describing his escapades within the covers of a beautifully illustrated big book.

Big books have become very popular at all stages of primary school because they can support whole-class literacy lessons that children enjoy. Adventure Ted's Big Book is novel because its focus is writing rather than reading and it is aimed at the very youngest pupils.

"We used to think good readers went on to become good writers," says Ms Morrison, "but now we know that is not necessarily true. The children who start writing very early go on to become better writers and readers."

Literacy teaching has undergone something of a revolution in Scottish schools. "We used to teach infants one sound a week, so it could take over a year to get through the alphabet," explains Glasgow City's literacy co-ordinator Fiona Harrison. "Only at the end of that time did the children start putting the sounds together to make words. Now it's four or five sounds a week. So by Christmas of Primary 1, they've learned all their sounds and are quite capable of using them.

"It used to take forever to begin writing, but now some of them are starting in the nursery."

Adventre Ted's book is written in rhyme. "Research shows that if children can hear rhymes it helps them to become better readers and writers," says Ms Morrison. "So in nurseries and P1 classes up and down the country we're getting back to listening to nursery rhymes and trying to find words that rhyme."

The big book is accompanied by a workbook based on Ted's activities, with 16 lessons covering imaginative, personal and functional writing. These include naming familiar objects, writing letters to Jack and Jill and Goldilocks and imagining what Ted might do when he wakes up tomorrow. "The children can have a go and write their own ideas, or the lessons can be used for shared writing in the classroom," says Ms Morrison.

Spittal Primary was one of the first schools to take part in South Lanarkshire's programme for early intervention, of which an important aspect is creating and sustaining links between home and school, says headteacher Carol Howarth. She believes Ted will be a valuable asset:

"He'll build the kids' confidence and encourage them to get writing at school and at home; they'll want to have a go and not sit looking at a blank page.

"He should also help motivate the boys to keep up with the girls."

Ted could soon be an international star. Publisher Sunfish Products has associates in the United States and is planning to introduce him to American teachers. A group of Scottish teachers is travelling to New Zealand and plans to take Ted with them. Ted is also going into cyberspace, so children will be able to learn about his latest adventures on the Internet. And a CD is on the way.

As you might expect of someone with a name like Adventure Ted, the bear himself is looking forward to all this activity. "It doesn't matter what I decide," he concludes, throwing his bag over his shoulder and heading for the door, "as long as my pencil is by my side. Sometimes my writing can be slow, but I'm always ready to have a go."

Adventure Ted's Big Book pound;15, workbook pound;1, from Sunfish Products, tel 0141 332 6186

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